Every night 70 million people have trouble falling asleep. Sleep deprivation makes it impossible to make logical decisions, especially when you are driving. When your mind is deprived of sleep long enough, it will sleep regardless of imminent physical danger or the need to stay alert for a long drive.
When you continue to deprive your body of sleep, the brain actually fall asleep for very brief periods of time in a phenomenon called microsleep. Microsleep can last as long as 15-20 seconds where you are not responding to your environment. Your eyes might be open, but no one is home!
In a German study, the subject was kept awake well past the threshold of sleep deprivation. The subject is then wired to a portable EEG machine and asked to drive on the Autobahn to get home. According to the study, the subject was actually asleep for as long as 10 minutes while he continued to maintain control of the car and negotiable turns. A sleep deprived person continues to look as if they are awake and performing routine actions. Trouble starts when a sleep deprived person does something outside of their normal routine.
Here are some tips for staying awake during a long drive when you are suffering from sleep deprivation:
- Prior to starting your trip, make sure you get enough sleep beforehand.You don't want to start your road trip tired.
- Take a break at least once every two hours.Get out of the car, stretch, and move around.
- Learn to recognize the symptoms of sleep deprivation.Signs of sleep deprivation include yawning often, itchy eyes, braking too hard or too late, and feeling tired.
- The old tricks of opening the window, turning up the volume of the radio, or drinking coffee to stay awake are not effective for preventing microsleep.When you have to rely on these tricks to stay awake, a safer solution would be to pull over and take a short nap (no more than 45 minutes).It is better to arrive safely than to not arrive at all.
- Include an overnight stay at a motel if it takes more than 9 hours of driving to arrive at your location.
- There is a circadian cycle low point around 3 am and 3 pm.Your body's energy level and mental alertness are the lowest at these points.Avoid driving during these times if you are suffering from sleep deprivation.
If you are driving when you slip into a microsleep of 15-20 seconds, there is a good chance that you will not wake up again. Sleep deprivation is more than just a making poor decisions, it could mean your life.